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North Carolina’s Health and Human Service Secretary Aldona Wos will be at the state legislature today, rolling out her plan to restructure the $18 billion state agency as well the state Medicaid program that provides healthcare for more than 1.5 million North Carolinians.

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

Wos, in a 14-page letter addressed to the heads of the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee, reiterated to lawmakers that she came into her $1-a-year job to find the state’s largest agency in disarray.

“As you know, I inherited a department with a well-documented history of serious and chronic problems,” she wrote. “We have been on a path toward a sustainable department over the last 20 months and we have built the foundation for a stronger Medicaid program.”

She hopes the restructuring of Medicaid program will to fend off proposals in the legislature by Senate Republicans to move Medicaid, the massive $13 billion program that provides health care to low-income children, seniors and disabled residents – to its own standalone agency.

Wos, a wealthy Greensboro physician and prominent Republican fundraiser appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory in January 2013, has had a rocky tenure as the head of the DHHS, with controversies swirling over her granting big salaries and contracts to associates and McCrory campaign workers. Her first year on the job also saw botched rollouts of two technology projects that led to lengthy delays in medical providers getting paid for Medicaid services and in thousands of low-income families accessing food stamps

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Commentary

Coal ash clean upThere have been several noteworthy reactions to Governor Pat McCrory’s strange decision to simply let the General Assembly’s coal ash legislation become law without his signature last week. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger came this close to accusing the Governor of – yikes! – improper bias toward his longtime employer when he said the following in a statement reported this morning by the Greensboro News & Record:

“The governor’s primary concern appears to be a desire to control the coal ash commission and avoid an independent barrier between his administration and former employer.”

Veteran environmental advocate and Winston-Salem city councilman Dan Besse got it just about right, however, when he authored the following for the weekly newsletter of N.C. League of Conservation Voters this morning: Read More

Commentary

McC709It was just a few years ago that opponents of then-Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama were howling at the notion that he had voted “present” on multiple occasions while a state legislator in Illinois (something that’s permitted for lawmakers in the Land of Lincoln but not  in most states — North Carolina included).

The gist of the not-unfounded criticism at the time was that a “present” vote was and is a pretty gutless way out of taking a stance on sticky issues. If one goes to all the trouble of running for office and serving as an elected representative of the people, went/goes the reasoning, the least a lawmaker can do is to have the courage to make a decision when presented with a choice of whether something will be made law or not.

Such logic would seem to apply with even more force to a governor when it comes to approving or not approving a bill sent to him or her by a legislature. After all, it’s not like he or she is just one of a couple of hundred legislators whose vote may or may not even really matter. The constitution specifies that the decision to sign or veto a bill is his or hers alone. (It should probably also be noted that when a U.S. president fails to sign a bill while Congress is out of session, the effect is to veto the bill — the process is known as a “pocket veto.”)

This brings us, of course, to yesterday’s decision by Governor Pat McCrory to let the controversial — many would say “thoroughly inadequate” — coal ash “clean up” bill become law by simply not acting on it. Read More

Commentary

fuzzy-math-300x225In case you missed it, one of this morning’s “must reads” is a story posted late yesterday by WRAL reporter Mark Binker about the ongoing controversy over North Carolina’s muddled and troubled new teacher pay plan.  As Binker reports:

When Gov. Pat McCrory wrote to welcome teachers back to the classroom, he touted a “substantial” pay raise that amounted to “an average pay increase of 5.5 percent for teachers.”

That might have been exciting news, except that legislative leaders have been touting a 7 percent average pay raise for more than a month now. House Speaker Thom Tillis trumpets that 7 percent figures as “simple math” in a recent campaign ad for his U.S. Senate campaign.

For educators like Michelle Pettey, a first-grade teacher at Wake County’s Brier Creek Elementary School, that “simple math” doesn’t add up; 5.5 percent doesn’t equal 7 percent and neither number matches the smaller-than-expected pay bump that showed up in her first paycheck of the year.

“No teacher can figure out what happened,” said Pettey, a teacher with 16 years in the classroom who said her actual raise worked out to be something like 1.39 percent over last year’s salary. The single mom whose own kinds are in the school system says she has friends outside the profession who ask her why teachers are complaining about a 7 percent raise.

According to Binker’s story, the confusing new plan has even left one of the state’s most powerful politicians — Senate Rules Committee chairman Tom Apodaca — confused.

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Commentary

In case you are wondering if the animosity between Governor Pat McCrory and Senate leaders has lessened since the legislative session adjourned, the answer seems to be no, judging by comments at this weekend’s apple festival in Hendersonville.MC_AP

McCrory rode in the King Apple Parade Monday and told the Times-News that he was still upset about the new coal ash commission created by the General Assembly and believes it is unconstitutional. McCrory said his lawyers are still reviewing the coal ash legislation that includes the commission.

That prompted powerful Senate Rules Chair Tom Apodaca, who represents Hendersonville and was also in the parade, to respond with this about McCrory’s legal team.

His attorney is probably a great attorney for real estate closings, but I don’t think he pays a lot of attention to the constitutional picture.

Ouch.

It’s not clear from McCrory’s comments if he still plans to sign the coal ash bill. It is clear that his relationship with Senate leaders is still strained.